So it’s the most desperate moment of American Idol Season 11, with the Top 4 waiting to see who wins the privilege of coming home to marching bands and weeping, fainting neighbors — and then singing three solos next week.
Who didn’t make it? Hollie Cavanagh, perennial bottom-deweller who outlasted most other Idolettes.
Blogs and other media went on a forecasting frenzy in the hours before Thursday’s elimination results. There was no clear plotline.
Jessica Sanchez, currently a Top 4 finalist on American Idol, now tops her competitors with the most video views on YouTube – by far – with her solo performance video views from the competition now tallying more than 17 million. And the 16-year old has the most fans on Twitter: 296,866 followers.
“Jessica has won every week in our poll, including the week she was eliminated then saved, so while I’m satisfied with the expectation that she’ll be safe we have to remember Jessica’s results in these polls are skewed.”
Now, if voting on Idol is STRICTLY limited to within the borders of the US of A, maybe social media stats wouldn’t mean so much. But apparently people can vote from foreign shores. I don’t know how successful the overseas voters are getting through Idol’s phone and SMS lines, but there’s an on-line process, too. Idol’s not baring any breakdown, of course, but I’d love to see the stats for that; it could mean a sea change for the aging franchise.
Jessica’s social media clout shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Philippines ranks pretty high worldwide in terms of social media use. Nationalism’s a pretty strong motivational factor — but hardly the only basis for voting on Idol. (Many of my friends say their tween daughters think Phillip Phillips is king.)
So, let’s see what happens. I have a feeling Jessica’s more than safe — but I thought the same the week she was almost voted out of Idol. In the meantime, here’s my take on the Top 4 performances.
Something about American Idol
that reminds me of the Hunger Games
. A group of thousands of young people whittled down to forty plus, and then to ten. They then proceed to claw each other out of existence. The primping and simpering doesn’t mask the potential for hurt in a reality show where a single misstep can turn you from the anointed one to almost-been. The exception being, if you’re a white, grungy guy with a guitar and a smile ready made for toothpaste commercials.
These kids are also surrounded by mentors who seem to think it’s all about them rather than the hapless warriors. There are Machiavellian producers who force the kids to run through fire and fog, and crawl through mawkish orchestration and overly loud choirs and godawful duets, and countless gewgaws and fake fights and love stories, all in the service of Mammon. And then there’s Ryan Seacrest. Nuff said.
War is seldom fair.
You want sponsors, you gotta do nice, the mentors tell Katniss. You want Idol votes, learn to please Middle America, the girls are told. That’s the only way if you’re not Phillip Phillips or the other guy with a natural musical heritage of blues and gospel and everything cool.
If Joshua Ledet didn’t have so much talent and a droll, dry humor that perpetually punches holes into every pretension delivered by judges and host, it would be too easy to hate him. Ditto Phillip who, bless him, manages to thumb his nose at everything everyone says. Idol is a contest where tenacity and the willingness to push back and jealously guard one’s personal crazy space is eventually what takes contenders to the top. This year, at least.
I initially heard the radio DJ say the word, “California”. And my heart swandived to somewhere below the navel.
What kind of genre is California?
Sure, Fil-Mex-American sweetheart Jessica Sanchez hails from that state, but it was hard to imagine her singing the Eagles’ monster hit or that Led Zep song. Aside from the literal word, the image that consistently came to mind was, well, The Beach Boys. You know, surfin’ USA.
Now, anybody who’s been to California and anybody who reads, knows the old stereotypes had long dissipated in this crazy melting pot. I hoped American Idol’s producers knew that, too, or Jessica was toast.
A couple of hours later, Twitter friends shared the set list for the Idol Top 4. It was head-scratching time. What the hell did these songs — ‘You Raise Me Up’?! — have to do with California?
Turns out all the songs were by artists from California. The Creedence Clearwater Revival and Journey bands originated from the San Francisco Bay Area. Josh Groban and Etta James hail from Los Angeles. (Actually, Groban’s #1 hit is a Secret Garden original. The band’s all kinds of European and the song itself has a bar from Londonderry Air and Danny Boy, both of which aren’t exactly associated with Hollywood’s home state.)
It was easy to figure out the choices of Phillip and Hollie Cavanagh. But there was an off chance Joshua and Jessica would swap songs. Never mind that baby Jessica cut her teeth on James; her lyrical side could latch on to the Grobhan hymn. Joshua could probably cover James anytime. As the Twitter world confirmed their choices, I was wondering what tricks the preacher’s son would bring to ‘You Raise Me Up.’
Of course, Joshua brought it to church, gospel style.
Which was a good thing, because the verses didn’t really suit his voice range. There were a couple of wobbly moments at the start. But by the second chorus, he was up and away.
Anyone who grumbles about it not being Groban, forgets that there are as many ways of praise as there are people. And there is something about Joshua’s face, a rare, clear goodness, that tells you there’s a lot of backstory to all this gratitude.
There’s also a lot lurking behind Joshua’s sensational take on James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’
. It’s such a feminist take that you forgive the over-singing. If Joshua wants to be a diva, well, we’ll cheer him on, because he brings to this song every plaint, every furious hiss, every scream of every woman who’s ever been told she’s good only for bringing her man some cheer.
The first run, I thought he was too screechy, padding the song with too many vocal somersaults and obscuring its meaning. By the second and the third sittings, one saw through the admittedly impressive bravura turn into Joshua’s heart and values and began to wonder about life in Louisiana. There are a host of great African-American male voices. But how many of these can step into the shoes of Patti Labelle or Aretha Franklin?
Of Jessica’s first performance, the bad news is, she ain’t Etta James. The good news is, it hardly matters.
Jessica showed that she will listen to advice — sometimes wackily contradictory advice — from the Idol judges, and Jimmy Iovine, and all of us with a stake in her success, and then stubbornly hold on to a few consistent truths.
The main one being, she’s an old soul, who’s not terribly interested in the world unless it has to do with singing.
The second one, that she means to tells us to stop being hypocrites — because 16 in this day and age means knowing two hundred and one ways of getting one’s kicks, including steaing away from tut-tutting elders, and one can do this as well in jeans and shirt as in a teeny-bitty shift with enough chains to fuel an S&M salon.
She gave a sulty take on James’ ‘Steal Away’. There was nothing of James’ kittenish wiles. Jessica had a brassy version, wickedly so. It was a little shock, like a convent girl baring her secrets. I don’t know that Jessica has any, but there was a glitter in her eyes even as she finally showed us FUN, that hinted at the fire that finally erupted in her second song.
Whatever concerns over that first song were swept away by the Dreamgirls hit, ‘And I Am Telling You’. It’s a devil of a song. Beyond range, beyond the phrasing that requires almost inhuman lung power, it is the song’s emotional weight that makes it a perennial favorite in singing pageants — and a deadly one.
Jessica has always been criticized for showing off so much form and technique and too little heart. She’s had a tough time; the judges seem to consider her a trained monkey. They want her do all these tricks and run through a gamut of song styles — and rip out her guts at the same time. The problem is, Jessica is not a theatrical person, not the type who embellishes speech — yet she’s been taught since childhood to do all these torch songs.
Jennifer Hudson’s anthem isn’t torch, thank goodness. It has too much rage and fight for that. And this is what Jessica tapped into, the seething cauldron that exists in a person trained to serve and please others, so much so that she’s taken for granted. The Chula Vista ingenue brandished the musical equivalent of a ton of steel, which she then shaped with molten fire. No sweetheart tugs this time. This was as searing as it can get — eyes shooting sparks — an iconic performance, all the more memorable because she didn’t budge an inch from center stage.
Can’t do no wrong
Phillip doesn’t have the best voice in this competition, but it’s hard to begrudge Him the adulation. There’s the smile for one, and that’s not all there is to him. There’s his ability to tell a story, too.
That he brings Jimmy Iovine Damien Rice’s ‘Volcano‘ is a testament to his self-knowledge.
There have been more “poignant” moments on Idol but tonight’s second song shows us that Phillip’s not just a lightweight getting by on the strength of looks and the shape of those jean-clad limbs.
‘Volcano’ was haunting in the best possible way, that of a soul speaking of what really matters, tweens and hyperventilating cougars be damned. Is it his best performance ever? I don’t know. Sexy, angry ‘Moving On’ (Billy Joel week) was also very much about the real Phillip as this song is.
Hollie actually did a good, faithful take of ‘Faithfully’
, showing off her strong, high notes towards the end, though I was a bit bemused that she needed other people to translate the meaning of a pretty uncomplicated song.
Which, perhaps, explains why she missed the point of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, which is all about someone who doesn’t understand unrequited passion. Because god knows it’s pretty easy to love gentle, sheltered Hollie. It’s Hollie that needs a bit more belief in herself.
Hollie will get somewhere. She’s that good. But in the here and now, there’s a gulf between very good and bring-us-to-our-knees great.
That Jessica gets ripped for her “very good” performances is a back-handed display of people’s expectations, itself a statement on her exceptional talent.
I have a fantasy. It’s that Phillip Phillips becomes an iconoclastic legend by telling his army of fans to give credit where it’s due. Not hoing to happen, although he seems to genuinely admire Jessica. But who knows…. we may still get that classic Idol finale featuring two of the best singers to ever grace their stage.